How MacKenzie Scott’s Billions Have Helped Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights

Author: Trudy Ring

MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropy has been hugely helpful to LGBTQ+ organizations — not just because of the size of her donations but because of their unrestricted nature, says a new report from the Movement Advancement Project.

Many individuals and foundations that make grants to charitable groups specify the type of projects the money must go to and require the groups to report how the funds were used. But from 2019 to the spring of 2023, Scott, a billionaire who was once married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has made $14 billion worth of unrestricted gifts, according to the MAP report, “Unrestricted and Unprecedented: The Impact of MacKenzie Scott’s Large Gifts on LGBTQ Organizations.”

“Notably, the gifts were given without organizations needing to apply or submit proposals to be considered, and contained no requirements for how the funds could be used or a time period in which they must be used, nor were there any reporting requirements; in fact, organizations reported receiving gifts ‘out of the blue,’” MAP notes.

“The process by which organizations received these gifts, the impressive financial totals of her giving, and the unrestricted nature of these gifts has had a profound impact not only on the recipient organizations but in discussions on approaches to philanthropy itself,” the report continues.

MAP looked at 28 LGBTQ+ or inclusive groups that received grants totaling $163 million from Scott from 2020 to 2022. She donated to seven other organizations in this category, but the figures from them were not available. MAP obtained information from the 28 through a survey in which 18 of them participated, plus public records and other sources for the remaining 10.

Of the 18 surveyed, 39 percent were social advocacy/issue-based, 6 percent were primarily legal organizations, 6 percent were primarily research-focused, 22 percent combined social advocacy, research, and legal work, 17 percent were philanthropic, 5 percent were a mix of social advocacy and community center, and a 5 percent focused on cultural performance and community building. Also, of these 18, 78 percent were stand-alone groups and 22 percent had chapters, members, or affiliate organizations.

Organizations of all types saw an impact. “Scott’s gifts to LGBTQ organizations have been transformative in what they have allowed organizations to do — even just in the first one to three years since receiving the gifts,” the report says.

“The unrestricted nature of Scott’s gifts has allowed organizations to pursue new opportunities, expand their stability, and invest in their personnel and infrastructure, all of which has the potential to broaden organizations’ impact and operating capacity,” it continues. “Notably more than 3 in 10 organizations were able to start a new program, invest in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), establish a cash reserve, and collaborate with other movement organizations. Further, more than half were able to expand an existing program, hire new staff positions, and increase salaries and/or benefits.”

Compared to the overall group of organizations that received grants from Scott, LGBTQ+ ones were slightly more likely to spend the new money on increasing salaries or benefits, slightly less likely to spend it on professional development for staff, and somewhat less likely to use it to expand existing programs or set up a cash reserve.

Among comments from organizational leaders, one said Scott’s gift “has enabled us to take action on some key ideas and visions that we were trying to raise funds for.” Another noted, “It has given us the ability to think bigger than before, as we attempt to spend it in impactful ways that won’t create future funding challenges.” Yet another comment was “With the gift being unrestricted, it allowed us to invest in both new fundraising opportunities (which funders often never fund) and impactful programs, creating a vision where we are self-sustaining beyond the term of the gift.”

“Especially as LGBTQ communities across the country are facing unprecedented legislative, social, and physical attacks, we find that Scott’s gifts have allowed LGBTQ-focused organizations to increase capacity, respond creatively, and build for the future,” Tessa Juste, MAP’s LGBTQ movement building and policy researcher, wrote on the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s blog.

“The attacks on LGBTQ communities in the current political landscape are intrinsically interconnected with the attacks on democracy, historically accurate education in schools, and abortion access,” Juste added. A key takeaway for funders, she wrote, is this: “Do not shift your giving away from other types of organizations, but also give more boldly to LGBTQ organizations to close the gap. Funders can and should place trust in LGBTQ movement organizations to know how best to broaden their impact for the good of the intersecting communities they serve.”

Pictured: MacKenzie Scott and an LGBTQ+ rights demonstrator

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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring

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